September 26, 2023


Unlimited Technology

The best PC games for HDR

You just picked up one of the best HDR monitors, and now you need some of the best HDR PC games to go along with it. A lot of PC games either don’t support HDR or come with a horrible implementation (I’m looking at you, Destiny 2). I rounded up some HDR games that I reach for on PC that offer plenty of eye candy without too much hassle.

If you’re not sure what HDR is doing and why it can go wrong, make sure to read our in-depth HDR explainer. A lot of HDR monitors, outside of expensive options, don’t look great, either. If you’re worried about gaming with HDR, you may want to invest in a TV with HDR10+ or Dolby Vision.

For some games, HDR is about the highlights and the shadows, and for others, it’s about the bits in between. Forza Horizon 5 fits in the latter category. The HDR pushes the dynamic range to its limits, but what stands out are the softer tones in between. In Forza Horizon 5, HDR isn’t about blowing out the sun in the sky; it’s about bringing a sense of realism to the wonderfully designed map of Mexico.

It’s a little off-putting at first — HDR is supposed to make colors pop, and in Forza Horizon 5, it dulls them. The harsh, direct lighting of Mexico would wash out color, though, and after a bit of time, I appreciated that extra level of realism.

It’s no secret that Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a beautiful game, but you need to play it with HDR to appreciate its depth. It’s one of the best HDR implementations you can find on PC, showcasing what careful attention to technical detail can do when combined with superb art design.

HDR works especially well in the game thanks to its variety of level designs. The Silent Woods are solemn and dark, with the blue tint of night backlighting the area, while Baur’s Reach is vibrant with its snowy backdrops and hints of orange and purple. HDR in Ori and the Will of the Wisps seems to extract colors that shouldn’t exist, and it looks better than many AAA games.

Cyberpunk 2077 has come a long way since its launch, and now that performance issues are mostly behind the game, it’s easy to appreciate the vibrant world of Night City. Throwing HDR on isn’t enough with most displays — combined with ray tracing, especially, it results in strange halos and terrible color mapping.

Don’t ditch HDR immediately, though. Cyberpunk 2077 offers a few sliders to adjust the look, including a separate option for HDR in menus (a setting many HDR PC games are sorely lacking). With the right tweaks for your display, you can make Night City come to life with HDR in a way you’ve never seen before.

The rebooted Hitman trilogy looks amazing, and all three of the games feature wonderful HDR. I went with Hitman 3 because of the levels and how they show off HDR. All three of the games feature a rather muted color palette, emphasizing the shadows in deep corners that could hide a stealthy assassin. Hitman 3 does, too, but with an amazing dash of color in the world.

If you want a quick hit of HDR, boot up the Chongqing level to see bright neon lights reflected off of rain-ridden city streets. That’s the best showcase, but all six levels look dynamic and vibrant. In addition to Chongqing, I’m a fan of Dubai thanks to its cinematic outdoor intro and Gatsby-esque set pieces, as well as Berlin with its colorful club setting, casual outdoor bar, and the harsh lighting of the “warehouse” in the back.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice assaults your senses. That’s the point of the game. The audio experience will take you far, and the wonderfully detailed world builds on top of that. But to fully appreciate the story and themes of Hellblade, you need to play it with HDR turned on.

Developer Ninja Theory has made a name for itself for beautiful visuals over the past couple of decades, but Hellblade is a technical marvel. It looks better than a lot of games releasing in 2022, and it came out in 2017. Just don’t throw up Hellblade as part of an HDR hype demo; this is one you’ll want to play alone.

Disco Elysium is an unlikely pick for the best HDR games, but it just looks so damn good. The game is a classic RPG without combat, and it locks players in with impeccable writing and quest design, as well as an art style all its own. It’s a thrashed watercolor painting come to life.

Atmosphere is the name of the game, and while the art style translates without HDR, it’s at its best with HDR. The smudged world of Elysium teems with bleak color, and HDR is just another layer building on the immersion.

If you’re looking for some easy eye candy, look no further than Tetris Effect. It’s particle overload, and the HDR is perfectly mapped to show off the specular highlights of the evolving scenes in the background without clipping them. It’s HDR that’s on the edge of being too much, but with the game’s vibrant art design, it never crosses that line.

This is a game that’s only limited by the display you play it on. It’s no secret that HDR on monitors isn’t always great, and Tetris Effect is a game you want to play on the best display you can. Throw it up on an OLED TV like the LG CX, and you’re in for one of the most dynamic visual experiences available in gaming.

It’s a great game, too. You’ll load up Tetris Effect for a quick hit of particles and stay for hours clearing lines.

How to know if a PC game supports HDR

There isn’t a database of every PC game that supports HDR, and any that exist are usually incomplete or ignore titles without a proper HDR setting in-game. I recommend using the PCGamingWiki to find out if a game you want to play supports HDR. This wiki lists out the graphical features of most PC games, and it’s the most complete list of HDR PC games I’ve found.

It’s still a wiki, though, so there’s a chance the information you find won’t be accurate. The best way to know if a PC game supports HDR is to boot it up and check in the settings menu.

How to find if your monitor supports HDR

HDR on computer monitors is defined by VESA’s DisplayHDR standard. Monitors with support usually come with a label, either on the box or on the monitor itself. If you don’t have either, you can look up your monitor on the DisplayHDR website to see if it’s supported.

Although DisplayHDR is the HDR standard for PC monitors, it has several tiers. The lowest tier, DisplayHDR 400, doesn’t give the experience you might expect out of an HDR display. As DisplayHDR itself points out, not all HDR is created equally.

How to turn on HDR in PC games

Most games have an HDR option in the settings menu. You’ll usually find it in the graphics settings, but you may find it in the display settings, too. Turn it on, adjust the sliders (if they’re available), and you’re good to go. Some games, however, require that you turn on HDR in Windows 10 first.

If HDR isn’t looking right in a game, follow these steps to turn on HDR in Windows:

  1. Press Windows Key at the same time; search for “HDR.”
  2. Open HDR Settings and select your display if you have multiple monitors.
  3. Toggle the Use HDR switch to On. 

Your screen may flash for a second, but then HDR will work.

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